List of Major League Baseball records considered unbreakable

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Johnny Vander Meer's elusive record of back-to-back no-hitters has been described as "the most unbreakable of all baseball records"[1] by LIFE.

The following Major League Baseball records are generally considered unlikely to ever be broken. The information is compiled from various sources including sportswriters, players, and fans. Many of these were initially set by either freak occurrences of greatness or during the early decades of baseball when certain rules, techniques, and fundamentals were in place that have since drastically evolved, making it almost impossible to replicate such feats in today's game.

Contents

Pitching records[edit]

Cy Young holds records in career wins and complete games. Many sportswriters consider these records unbreakable.[2][3][4]

Most career wins – 511[edit]

Set by Cy Young, 1890–1911.[2][3][4] Highlights include five 30-win seasons and fifteen 20-win seasons.[5] The next closest player is Walter Johnson, with 94 fewer wins at 417; he was the only other player to have reached 400.[6] The most wins by a pitcher who played his entire career in the post-1920 live-ball era is Warren Spahn's 363.

For a player to accomplish this, he would have to average 25 wins in 20 seasons just to get to 500. In the past 38 years, only 3 pitchers (Ron Guidry in 1978, Bob Welch in 1990, and Steve Stone in 1980[7]) have had one season with 25 wins.[8] Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leader finished each year with an average of 21. Only three active players have even 200 wins—the 38-year-old CC Sabathia (who has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2019 season[9]) leads with 249 wins, with 46-year-old Bartolo Colón (currently a free agent) just behind at 247 and the 36-year-old Justin Verlander trailing with 204.[10]

Most wins in a season – 59[edit]

Set by Old Hoss Radbourn, in 1884.[11] Most pitchers in today's game start 30–35 games per season, and thus do not start enough games to break the record. The most games started by a pitcher in the 2018 season was 35, accomplished by Jhoulys Chacín, and only three pitchers in the 21st century have started more than 35 games in a season (Tom Glavine in 2002 and Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux in 2003, each with 36 starts).[12] Although relief pitchers often appear in more than the requisite number of games, they rarely record ten wins in a season. To put this record in further perspective, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season was Denny McLain in 1968 and the last pitcher to win 25 games in a season was Bob Welch in 1990. Also, the most wins in a season by any pitcher in the 21st century is 24, by Randy Johnson in 2002 and Justin Verlander in 2011.[13]

Most career complete games – 749[edit]

Set by Cy Young, 1890–1911.[3] Highlights of this record include: nine 40-complete-game seasons, eighteen 30-complete-game seasons[5] and completing 92 percent of his total career starts (an all-time record of 815).[3] The next closest player is Pud Galvin, who has 103 fewer complete games at 646. Among pitchers whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, the most is 382 by Warren Spahn.

For a player to accomplish this, he would have to average 30 complete games over 25 seasons to get to 750. Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leaders in complete games averaged eight per season, and only two pitchers in the 21st century have had 10 complete games in any season (CC Sabathia with 10 in 2008 and James Shields with 11 in 2011).[14] In addition, only two pitchers other than Young have even started as many as 749 games—Nolan Ryan (773) and Don Sutton (756).[15] The closest active players are Colón and Sabathia (who has thrown just one complete game since the 2013 season), each with 38 complete games.[16]

The quest for any complete-game records, either over a career or over a single season, is further complicated by the drastic change in philosophy embraced by virtually all modern managers and pitching coaches, motivated in roughly equal parts by more advanced modern-day medical knowledge of the cumulative damage that pitching does to a hurler's arm, combined with a team front office's reluctance to see a pitcher in whom they have invested considerable financial capital in the form of a big contract getting hurt. Another factor, arguably, is the greater reliance of managers and pitching coaches on sabermetrics—in this case, statistical data and analysis that generally show leaving a starter in longer leads to diminishing returns in terms of opposing batters allowed to reach base safely and score runs.[17] While even a few decades ago, a starting pitcher was expected to go out and attempt to pitch a complete game, with the manager going to his bullpen only if the starter ran into trouble or was injured or visibly tiring, the present-day norm is the starter is expected to give his manager six, or perhaps seven "quality innings," at which point the manager—who, along with the pitching coach, has been tracking the starter's pitch count—will normally lift him and bring in one or more middle-relief specialists to pitch the next several innings and form a bridge to the team's closer.[18] There are exceptions—a manager will leave a starter in who is working on a no-hitter or, sometimes, a shutout, or will let a starter continue if he is pitching particularly strongly and has not run up a high pitch count. But managerial caution is now a more dominant mode, particularly if a pitcher is coming off a recent injury or has had Tommy John surgery or any other major procedure done on his pitching arm.

These changes in philosophy have reduced the number of complete games in today's game to an even greater extent than in the first decade of the 21st century. Since Shields amassed 11 complete games in 2011, no pitcher has had more than 6 complete games in a season. In 2018, all of Major League Baseball combined for 42 complete games, with no pitcher having more than 2.[19] In a 2019 story, Sam Miller of ESPN went so far as to say, "In your lifetime, you might very well see the last complete game."[20]

Most complete games in a season – 75[edit]

All-time record of 75 set by Will White in 1879; modern-era record of 48 set by Jack Chesbro in 1904. Sports Illustrated has said about this record, "Even if the bar is lowered to begin with the live-ball era (which began in 1920), the mark would still be untouchable." The most complete games recorded in a live-ball season is 33, achieved three times in all—twice at the dawn of that era by Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 and Burleigh Grimes in 1923, and also by Dizzy Trout in 1944, a season in which the player pool was severely depleted by World War II call-ups. According to SI, modern starters can expect to start about 34 games in a season.[14]

Most consecutive complete games in a season (since 1900) – 39; Most consecutive games without being relieved – 202[edit]

Both records were set by Jack Taylor, who pitched 202 consecutive games without being relieved from June 20, 1901 through August 13, 1906. The streak includes a total of 187 career starts (all complete games) and 15 relief appearances. The streak of 39 consecutive complete games (uninterrupted by a relief appearance) is a subset of the longer streak, lasting from April 15 through October 6, 1904.

Most career shutouts – 110[edit]

Walter Johnson has the most career shutouts.[21]

Set by Walter Johnson, 1907–27.[21] Highlights include: eleven 6-shutout seasons and leading the league in shutouts 7 times.[22] The next closest player is Grover Cleveland Alexander, who has 20 fewer shutouts at 90. As is the case for career wins and complete games, Warren Spahn holds the record among pitchers whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, with 63.

For a player to tie Johnson's record, he would have to pitch 5 shutouts every season for 22 years.[21] Between 2000 and 2009 the Major League leader in shutouts finished each year with an average of 4, and no pitcher in the 2018 season recorded more than 1 shutout. Also, adding the MLB-leading shutout totals for each season from 1991 through 2018 results in a total of 109, still short of Johnson's record.[23] The closest active player is Clayton Kershaw with 15.[24]

Most shutouts in a season – 16[edit]

Set first by George Bradley in 1876 and equaled by Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1916; live-ball era record of 13 set by Bob Gibson in 1968.[25]

The aforementioned Sam Miller had this to say about a rhetorical suggestion that the live-ball record of 13 could be broken: "This is the stupidest suggestion yet. Thirteen shutouts clearly belongs in the anachronism pile." He pointed out that neither the National nor American League had 13 combined shutouts in the 2018 season, and no pitcher had more than one in that season.[26]

Most consecutive no-hitters – 2[edit]

Set by Johnny Vander Meer on June 11 and 15, 1938.[1] Despite holding this record, he finished his career with a 119–121 win–loss record.[1] The prospect of a pitcher breaking this record by hurling three consecutive no-hitters is so unimaginable that LIFE described this as "the most unbreakable of all baseball records."[1] Ewell Blackwell came the closest to matching Vander Meer after following up a no-hitter with eight no-hit innings in 1947.[27] In 1988, Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays had consecutive no-hitters going with two outs in the ninth; both were broken up by singles.[28] Between 2000 and 2009, 20 no-hitters were pitched, and the closest anyone came in the 21st century is Max Scherzer, who in 2015 threw a one-hitter and no-hitter in consecutive starts, respectively losing out on perfect games in the seventh inning and on the 27th batter.[29][30][31]

Nolan Ryan holds records in career no-hitters, strikeouts and bases on balls. Given the fact that he pitched a record 27 years in MLB, all three records are regarded by many sportswriters as unlikely to ever be surpassed.[3][32][33]

Most career no-hitters – 7[edit]

Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Sandy Koufax is second with 4 no-hitters.[3] No other pitcher has tossed more than three no hitters.[3] Between 2000 and 2009 there were 20 no-hitters.[30] Only 32 pitchers have thrown 2 or more no-hitters, and of the 18 active pitchers that have thrown a no-hitter, only seven have pitched more than one (Homer Bailey, Mark Buehrle, Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Mike Fiers, and Jake Arrieta have each pitched two no-hitters).[30] After Ryan and Koufax, just Larry Corcoran, Cy Young, and Bob Feller have thrown 3 no hitters.

Most career strikeouts – 5,714[edit]

Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93.[33] Highlights include: six 300-strikeout seasons, fifteen 200-strikeout seasons, and leading the league in strikeouts 11 times.[34] To accomplish this record, Ryan played the most seasons (27) in MLB history.[6][32]

The next closest player is Randy Johnson, who has 839 fewer strikeouts at 4,875.[6] Johnson also had four consecutive 300-strikeout seasons at the turn of the 21st century (1999–2002);[3] the only pitchers with a 300-strikeout season after 2002 are Clayton Kershaw, who had 301 in 2015, Chris Sale, with 308 in 2017, and Max Scherzer, with 300 in 2018.[35] For a player to approach this record, he would have to average 225 strikeouts over 25 seasons just to get to 5,625. Averaging 250 strikeouts over 23 seasons would enable him to surpass the record with 5,750. Between 2000 and 2009 the Major League leader in strikeouts finished each year with an average of 287, and even that average is skewed with large strikeout seasons by Randy Johnson and Pedro Martínez early in the decade. No pitcher exceeded 280 strikeouts between 2005 and 2014, and the only pitchers to have done so since are Kershaw and Sale in their respective 300-strikeout seasons, Scherzer in both 2016 and 2018 (with 284 in 2016), and Justin Verlander in 2018 (with 290).[35] The closest active player is CC Sabathia, with 3,002 strikeouts.[36]

Most career bases on balls – 2,795[edit]

Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Ryan ended up with 50 percent more bases on balls than any other pitcher in history.[33] The next closest is Steve Carlton with 1,833. The only active player to have issued even 1,000 career walks is Sabathia, who ended the 2018 season with 1,060.[37]

Most career saves – 652[edit]

Set by Mariano Rivera, 1995–2013.[38] Highlights include 15 consecutive seasons with 25 or more saves,[39] 9 consecutive seasons with 30 or more saves and 15 seasons with 30 or more saves (all three are records). After Trevor Hoffman, who retired with 601 career saves, the next-closest pitcher in saves is Lee Smith, with 478.[40][41]

For a player to reach Rivera's record, he would have to earn an average of 35 saves for 17 consecutive seasons just to get to 595 saves[42] or 40 saves for 16 consecutive years to reach 640.[43] As of the end of the 2018 season, the closest active player is 31-year-old Craig Kimbrel with 333 saves, slightly more than half of Rivera's total.[44][45]

Most innings pitched in a season – 680[edit]

Set by Will White in the same 1879 season in which he set the record of 75 complete games noted above (at this time the distance from mound to plate was 45 feet). The record pitching from the distance used since 1893 (60 feet 6 inches) is 482 innings that first year by Amos Rusie, which had been exceeded 85 times by pitchers working from 45 or (starting in 1881) 50 feet, including by Rusie himself the three previous consecutive seasons, but has never been approached since (Ed Walsh in 1908 was the last to pitch 400 innings in a season). The most innings pitched in a live-ball season (since 1920) was Wilbur Wood's 37623 innings in 1972.[46]

No pitcher has even thrown half of White's record total for innings in a season since Phil Niekro in 1979, with 342. The last 300-inning season to date was by Steve Carlton the following year, with 304. The highest single-season innings count in the 21st century was Roy Halladay's 266 in 2003, and the two most recent seasons of 2017 and 2018 saw the two lowest innings totals for an MLB leader in the sport's history (apart from the strike-shortened 1981 and 1994 seasons)—Chris Sale with 21413 in 2017 and Max Scherzer with 22023 in 2018.[46]

Most career wild pitches thrown – 343[edit]

Set by Tony Mullane whose career spanned from 1881 to 1894. Mullane pitched through a staggering 4531.1 innings (24th all-time) throwing a total of 343 wild pitches and averaged an errant pitch in 7.56% of those innings. Nolan Ryan is second on the list of most wild pitches with 277. The active leader in wild pitches is Félix Hernández with 154, less than half of Mullane's total.[47] With modern pitchers throwing fewer innings as well as wild pitches, this record is safely unbreakable.

Hitting records[edit]

Pete Rose's record of 4,256 hits is considered unsurpassable.[48]

Most career hits – 4,256[edit]

Set by Pete Rose, 1963–86.[48] No active major league player is at this time considered to be close to breaking Rose's mark. Following the retirement of Ichiro Suzuki shortly after the start of the 2019 season, the only active player with 3,000 hits is the 39-year-old Albert Pujols (3,086).[49] To get within 6 hits of tying Rose, a player would have to collect 250 hits over 17 consecutive seasons,[50] or more than 200 hits over the course of 21 seasons. In the past 81 years, only Ichiro has topped 250 hits in a season (with 262 hits in 2004).[50] Ichiro ended his playing career with 3,089 MLB hits[49] and 1,278 hits in the Japanese major leagues[51] for a combined, unofficial total of 4,367, 111 more than Rose's record; however, Ichiro's hits from Japan's major leagues are not counted toward his MLB total. At the start of the 2019 season, Miguel Cabrera (36 years old) had 2,676 hits after 16 seasons; he would have to average 176 hits over 9 additional seasons (or 198 over 8 seasons) to break the record. No player younger than Cabrera was within 200 hits of his career total at the end of the 2018 season, and no player younger than 30 at that time had even 1,600 career hits.[49]

Most hits in a season – 262[edit]

Set by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004, breaking a record that had been set in 1920 by George Sisler (257).[52] The aforementioned Sam Miller, addressing the prospect of this record being broken, said, "nope, not happening, and we should quickly get past it."[26] Writing shortly before Ichiro retired, Miller noted that the only active player who had collected more than 225 hits in any season was Ichiro himself,[26] who exceeded that total three times in all.[52] Other than Ichiro, no player has since surpassed Darin Erstad's 240 hits in the 2000 season.

Miller added that in today's game, "few elite hitters are as walk-averse as Ichiro was permitted to be", which he argued was a necessity for a player to be able to approach the record. The MLB leader in at-bats in 2018 was Trea Turner with 664; a player with that number of at-bats would have to hit .396 to reach 263 hits—a batting average that Miller himself had argued in 2018 was unapproachable in the modern game.[53] He added,[26]

The outer limit for at-bats -- say, a leadoff hitter for a high-scoring team who plays every game and has a 10th-percentile walk rate -- is perhaps 725, nine higher than the all-time record. And even the 725-AB guy would need to hit .363, a mark not met by any hitter in this decade.

Most consecutive seasons with 200 hits – 10[edit]

Set by Ichiro Suzuki, who attained this from 2001–10.[54][55][56] Ichiro's honors since joining the Seattle Mariners from Nippon Professional Baseball at age 27 include winning the 2001 AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, claiming the AL batting title in 2001 and 2004, leading the AL in hits in seven seasons (2001, 2004, 2006–10)[55] and breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old single-season hits record in 2004 with 262 hits.[57] The closest player is Willie Keeler who had 8 consecutive seasons with 200 hits that occurred almost a century prior in the dead-ball era.[58] The 2018 season was the first since 2013 in which no player reached the 200-hit mark.[59]

Most career triples – 309[edit]

Set by Sam Crawford, 1899–1916. Highlights include: five 20-triple seasons and sixteen 10-triple seasons.[60] The next closest player is Ty Cobb, who has 14 fewer triples at 295. Because of changes in playing styles and conditions that began around 1920 and have continued into the present from the dead-ball era to the live-ball era, the number of triples hit has declined noticeably since then. Among hitters whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, the leader in career triples is Stan Musial, with 177.

For a player to threaten Crawford's record, he would have to average 15 triples over 20 seasons just to get to 300. Between 2000 and 2009 the Major League leader in triples finished each year with an average of 17, and no player in the 2010s has had more than 16 triples in a season.[61] The closest active player is José Reyes, with 131.[62]

Most triples in a season – 36[edit]

Set by Chief Wilson in 1912.[63][64] Only two other players have ever had 30 triples in a season (Dave Orr with 31 in 1886 and Heinie Reitz with 31 in 1894),[64] while the closest anyone has come in the century since Wilson set the record is 26, shared by Sam Crawford (1914) and Kiki Cuyler (1925).[64] Only six hitters have had 20 triples in the last 50 years: George Brett (20 in 1979), Willie Wilson (21 in 1985), Lance Johnson (21 in 1996), Cristian Guzmán (20 in 2000), Curtis Granderson (23 in 2007) and Jimmy Rollins (20 in 2007).

The aforementioned Sam Miller also added that Chief Wilson was playing his home games in Forbes Field, which in 1912 had a 460-foot center-field distance, noticeably longer than any current MLB park. In his record-setting season, Wilson hit 24 triples at home, a total that has not been surpassed in an entire season since 1925. Additionally, Wilson himself never hit more than 14 triples in any other season. On top of this, no minor-league player has ever had more than 31 triples in a season, despite that level of the game having less capable defenders, many quirky ballparks (more so in past decades than today), and in some historical cases much longer seasons.[26]

Most home runs in a game – 4[edit]

In all, 18 players have hit four home runs in a game. On first glance, the record might appear possible, though unlikely, to break. However, in a 2018 story, Sam Miller argued that hitting five homers in a game "is outlandishly unlikely." First, according to Miller, a five-homer game would require not only that a player get five plate appearances in a game, but that he receive hittable pitches in each appearance. Only two players have ever made a plate appearance that could have resulted in his fifth homer of a game—Lou Gehrig in 1932 and Mike Cameron in 2002, each making two plate appearances in a game after having hit four homers; in Gehrig's last at-bat he hit a deep fly to center, but center fielder Al Simmons made a diving catch. Additionally, no player has ever homered in five consecutive at-bats, even in multiple games. Breaking this record would also set the record for most total bases in 1 game, with 20. Miller summed up what he viewed as the impossibility of a five-homer game with the following:[65][66]

That means a five-homer game would likely have to involve somebody doing something totally unprecedented, and fitting it within the narrow confines of a single game, with no margin for error or an intentional walk.

Most grand slams in a single inning – 2[edit]

Set by Fernando Tatís in 1999.[67] Only twelve other players have ever hit two grand slams in a single game.[68] However, breaking the record would require a player to hit three grand slams in a single inning. Breaking this record would also tie the major league record for RBI in a single game (12). Over 50 players have hit two home runs in a single inning,[69] but no MLB player has so much as hit three home runs in one inning. However, one minor league player, Gene Rye, has achieved the feat of hitting three home runs in a single inning.[70]

Highest career batting average – .367[edit]

Ty Cobb's career batting average of .367 is viewed as unbreakable.

Set by Ty Cobb in 1928 after beginning his career in 1905.[71] Highlights of this record include; three .400 seasons, nine .380 seasons, and leading the league 11 times in batting average.[72] Cobb managed to hit .323 in his final season at age 41.[6] The next closest player is Rogers Hornsby who had a batting average of .358; Hornsby's career straddled the dead-ball and live-ball eras, with most of it being in the live-ball era. There are only three players with a career average over .350, and the highest batting average among those who played their entire careers in the live-ball era is Ted Williams' .344. Since 1928, there have been only 46 seasons in which a hitter reached .366 and only Tony Gwynn attained that mark at least four times, finishing with a career .338 batting average.[73] The active player with the highest batting average is Miguel Cabrera at .317, fractionally above José Altuve.[74]

Highest single-season batting average – .440[edit]

Set by Hugh Duffy in 1894, the highest single-season average in National League, and MLB history. Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901 is the highest in American League history. In the modern (post-"dead-ball") era, Rogers Hornsby hit .424 in 1924, a feat unmatched since then. George Sisler's .420 average in 1922 still stands as the highest American League average of the modern era. Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, the last player in either league to top .400 for a season. Since then, only George Brett, who hit .390 in 1980, and Tony Gwynn, who hit .394 in a strike-shortened season in 1994, have even come close to breaking .400, and they were nowhere near any of the historical league or MLB highs.

In a 2018 ESPN story, the aforementioned Sam Miller argued that it was impossible to hit .400, or even seriously challenge the mark, in the modern game, noting that no hitter in the 21st century entered the second half of the season with an average above .380, and no batter since 2009 who qualified for his league's batting title had a .400 average at any point after May 25. Additionally, Miller argued that a player who might conceivably challenge .400 would have to combine a low strikeout rate, high home run rate, and high batting average on balls in play—a group of skills which largely do not complement one another.[53]

Most RBIs in a single season – 191[edit]

Set by Hack Wilson, who batted in 191 runs in 1930. Only Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg, at 184 and 183 RBIs respectively, ever came close, and there have been no real challenges to the record for over 75 years.

However, Sam Miller argued in 2019 that a serious challenge to Wilson's record, though highly unlikely, was less implausible than challenges to many of the other records listed here. He noted that in 1930, Wilson came to bat with 524 runners on base, drove in 22.7% of them, and hit 56 homers. Neither the number of baserunners nor the RBI percentage is within the top 60 seasons for those statistics in MLB history, with some seasons in the top 60 of both categories having been recorded in the 21st century, and he added "we've all seen players hit 56 home runs, even this decade."[26]

Highest career on-base percentage – .482[edit]

Set by Ted Williams from 1939 to 1960.[75] Williams, the last man to hit .400 in a MLB season (.406 in 1941), won six American League batting titles, two Triple Crowns, and two MVP awards. He ended his career with 521 home runs and a .344 career batting average. Williams achieved these numbers and honors despite missing nearly five full seasons to military service and injuries.[76] The next-closest player in career OBP is Babe Ruth at .474.[77]

Since Williams' retirement, only four players have posted an OBP above .482 in a season, with Barry Bonds the only one to do so more than once.[75][78] Bonds ended his career with an OBP of .444; the leader among active players is Joey Votto, at .427 after the 2018 season.[77]

Longest hitting streak – 56 games[edit]

With pitching the way it is—specialty guys, closer and setup guys—you're not going to have a chance to get four at-bats against one guy. On one night, you might face four different guys. I'm still amazed DiMaggio got to 56. I'm amazed now when somebody gets to 30.

Robin Ventura, who set the NCAA Division I record of hitting in 58 consecutive games[79]

Set by Joe DiMaggio, 1941.[2] Highlights include a .404 batting average and 91 hits.[80] DiMaggio's achievement is such a statistical aberration in its unlikelihood that sabermetrician Stephen Jay Gould called it "the most extraordinary thing that ever happened in American sports".[81] The next closest player is Willie Keeler, who had a hitting streak of 11 fewer games at 45 over 2 seasons.[82] There have been only six 40-game hitting streaks, the most recent one occurring in 1978, when Pete Rose hit in 44 straight games.[82] This also marked the only time since 1941 that a player has reached a 40-game hitting streak.[83] Since 1900, no player other than DiMaggio has ever hit safely in 55 of 56 games and no active players (as of 2019) have their two longest career hit streaks even add up to 56 games.[84][26] The improbability of DiMaggio's hit streak ever being broken has been attributed to the increased use of the bullpen and specialist relievers.[85] On July 17, 1941, pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby of the Cleveland Indians held him hitless. Two hard hit shots came close, but great defensive stops by third baseman Ken Keltner ended the streak.[86]

Most career home runs by an American League pitcher – 37[edit]

Set by Wes Ferrell, who hit 37 home runs while playing for the Indians, Red Sox, Senators and Yankees during the late 1920s and most of the 1930s (Ferrell hit one more HR while with the Braves in 1941, bringing his total to 38 – 37 as a pitcher and one as a pinch-hitter – the most for any MLB pitcher). With a total of 326 hits in 1,176 at-bats in his 17-year career, almost all of which occurred while he played in the AL, Ferrell hit .280 and had 208 RBIs,[87] and is considered one of baseball's best-hitting pitchers. Other American League pitchers with notable home-run totals include Bob Lemon, who hit 35 HR as a pitcher and two more as a pinch hitter during his 18-year career, all spent with the Indians; Red Ruffing, who smacked 34 home runs as a pitcher and two more as pinch-hitter over 22 seasons with the Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox; and Earl Wilson, who hit out 35 home runs in an 11-year career – 33 as a pitcher and two as a pinch-hitter – all but one of them while with the Red Sox and Tigers, and the last as a Padre.[88] With "good-hitting pitchers" the exception rather than the rule, the American League's adoption of the designated hitter rule in 1973 – leading to the widespread substitution of the DH in the pitcher's traditional #9 slot in the batting order in all AL games and all interleague, All-Star and World Series games played in AL parks – means that no American League pitcher will ever get enough at-bats to seriously challenge any of the above home run statistics, or any other game, seasonal or career hitting marks set by AL pitchers historically. However, the Los Angeles Angels' signing of Japanese player Shohei Ohtani - who notably plays as both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter – could mean that Ferrell's record could be broken (although Ohtani generally does not hit and pitch in the same game when playing in AL parks, so his home runs as a DH may not be considered as being hit "by a pitcher").

Most career sacrifice bunts – 512[edit]

Set by Eddie Collins, who successfully laid down 512 sacrifice bunts over his 25-year career with the Philadelphia Athletics. Joe Pasternak dubbed Collins as "the smartest player in baseball history". Not only was Collins a prolific bunter, but also 10th all-time in WAR and hit .333 for his career with 3,000 hits and over 700 stolen bases.[89] Second behind him is Jake Daubert with 392, more than 100 fewer than Collins. Since the turn of the 20th century, sacrifice bunts have continually fallen further out of favor: Moneyball by Michael Lewis, the famous sabermetrician's manifesto,[peacock term] went as far as to label the bunt as "evil". Modern baseball teams value minimizing outs rather than moving a baserunner over a single base position. At the end of the 2018 season, the active leader in career sacrifice bunts, Elvis Andrus, had 100—which placed him in a tie for 395th on the all-time list.[90]

Other records[edit]

Most outfield assists in a season – 50[edit]

Set by Orator Shafer in 1879. Since 1900, no other player has had more than 38, and nobody has had more than 30 since 1936.[91]

Most consecutive games played – 2,632[edit]

Set by Cal Ripken Jr., 1982–98.[92] Lou Gehrig, whose record Ripken surpassed, had a consecutive games streak of 2,130 games, 502 fewer.[29][85][92] Third on the all-time list is Everett Scott, whose streak of 1,307 consecutive games is less than half of Ripken's total.[85] Only seven players have ever played more than 1,000 consecutive games.[85] For a player to approach the milestone, he would have to play all 162 games in a season for 16 years just to get to 2,592 games.

As stated by LIFE, "no one else has ever come close, and no one ever will."[92] It is important to note, however, that before Gehrig's record was broken by Ripken in 1995, it was Gehrig's record that was considered unbreakable. In his 1988 edition of The Baseball Abstract, author Bill James stated (page 203) that "... Gehrig's record is vulnerable precisely because human characteristics such as determination and the ability to play with pain can be applied to breaking it ... I expect Gehrig's (2,130) record to be broken in my lifetime". At that time, Ripken was more than seven years away from the record.[93]

Most career stolen bases – 1,406[edit]

Set by Rickey Henderson, 1979–2003.[29][94] Highlights include: three 100-stolen-base seasons,[50] thirteen 50-stolen-base seasons, and leading the league in stolen bases 12 times.[95] The next closest player is Lou Brock, who has 468 fewer stolen bases at 938. According to LIFE, the stolen base record is probably unbreakable, as it is hard to imagine a player today "even attempt so many steals."[94] For a player to approach Henderson's milestone, he would have to average 70 stolen bases over 20 seasons just to get to 1,400.[50] Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leader in stolen bases finished each year with an average of 64. The closest active player is José Reyes with 517 stolen bases.[50][96]

Most stolen bases in a season – 130[edit]

Set by Henderson with 130 in 1982. Sam Miller dismissed the prospect of Henderson's single-season record being approached in 2019, saying "No, seriously, what are we talking about here? . . . The game has changed: We value outs more than extra bases now." He noted that Henderson attempted 172 steals in his record-setting season, thus being caught stealing 42 times. No player in the 2018 season even attempted one-third of Henderson's total attempts in 1982, and in the 2017 season, no American League player attempted more than Henderson's 1982 caught-stealing total of 42. Additionally, while Billy Hamilton set a minor-league record with 155 steals in 2012, he has never stolen more than 60 in any season of his MLB career.[26]

Most All-Star Games played – 25[edit]

Set by Hank Aaron, 1954–76. Aaron was an All-Star in all but two of the 23 seasons he played in the major leagues (his debut year in 1954 and last season in 1976). His record total was assisted by MLB's decision to hold two All-Star Games every year from 1959 to 1962;[97] Aaron played in all eight All-Star Games during that period. The only players whose careers began after 1976 to play in 25 MLB seasons were Rickey Henderson, who appeared in 10 All-Star Games,[97] and Jamie Moyer, who appeared in one.[98] The active player with the most All-Star Game selections is Miguel Cabrera, who has been on 11 All-Star Game rosters after 16 seasons.[99]

Most wins, losses and games managed – 3,731, 3,948 and 7,755[edit]

Set by Connie Mack, who retired in 1950.[100] Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years until the age of 87, partly aided by the fact that he owned the team as well.[100] The closest manager to Mack in games managed and losses is Tony La Russa (with 5,097 and 2,365, respectively). John McGraw is second in wins with 2,763.[101] The closest active manager in wins, losses and games managed is Bruce Bochy (age 64) with 1,926 wins (11th), 1,944 losses (8th), and 3,870 games managed (9th).[101] Bochy has announced that the 2019 Season will be his last as manager, so it is unlikely he will make further progress towards the record.[102]

Most road losses, season – 101[edit]

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders currently hold the MLB record for the most road losses in a single season, with 101. This record is unusual compared to others on this list in that while most others are theoretically possible (but impractical) to break, this record of most road losses mathematically cannot be broken even if a team achieved a completely winless road record: scheduling has since been standardized so that each team is scheduled to play 162 games (i.e. 81 games home and away, 21 games fewer than necessary to break the record).

While rainouts and other cancellations can reduce the number of games a team plays in a season, there is no way to accumulate the 21 extra road games needed to break the record. The only situation in which regular season games are ever added to the schedule is in the case of the one-game playoff; the odds of a team losing all of its road games but still having a record strong enough to qualify for such a game are infinitesimally small. In the uncommon circumstance that a game must be moved to the opposing venue, MLB policy now maintains the legal fiction that the designated home team does not change, regardless of venue, which ensures the designated home team does not lose rules advantages. This was not the case in 1899, when 35 of the Spiders' home games were changed to road games.

Three other factors contribute to the unique nature of the Spiders' record:

  • In 1899, owners were allowed to own more than one team, and in the case of the Spiders, the owners also owned the St. Louis Perfectos. Believing it more profitable to have a good team in St. Louis, the Spiders' best players from 1898 were given to the Perfectos in exchange for their least desirable players. MLB rules now prohibit a single owner owning more than one team, so this arrangement could not happen.
  • Baseball teams in 1899 were much more dependent on gate receipts for revenue. Realizing that fans in Cleveland were not going to pay to watch a decimated roster, the Spiders/Perfectos ownership transferred all of the Spiders' home games against the Perfectos to St. Louis. As the season wore on and the crowds in Cleveland shrunk in response to the mounting losses, prospective visitors began demanding the Spiders transfer home games to their parks as well since their cut of the gate receipts wouldn't enable them to recoup the expenses of the journey. The situation eventually became so bad that the Spiders' cut of the gate receipts for road games was actually more lucrative than their gate receipts for home games, so the Spiders' owners were not inclined to object to such requests. The Spiders only played eight home games after July 1, giving them the opportunity for 101 road losses (against 11 wins). Today, MLB revenue streams are far more numerous, and (especially in the case of media rights) are often both contractually dependent on teams playing their entire schedule and unaffected by attendance. Also, travel expenses make up a much smaller portion of a team's budget and MLB rules state any team that refuses to travel to their opponent's stadium for a scheduled game would immediately forfeit the game.
  • Also, the 1899 Spiders played their entire 154-game schedule — an unusual occurrence in an era when cancellations were much more frequent, and cancelled games were often not made up.

The 1899 Spiders also hold the records for the most losses in a single MLB season (with 134) and lowest winning percentage (.130). These are technically possible to break, but even under a 162-game schedule only two teams have come within 15 losses of the record, these being the expansion 1962 New York Mets (40-120, .250 winning percentage) and the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119, .265 winning percentage). Since 1899, only five teams have recorded a winning percentage of less than .260 (i.e. at least double that of the 1899 Spiders), and the 1962 Mets are the only team to do so under a 162-game schedule. Excluding the possibility of cancelled games not being made up, a team would need to lose 141 games over a 162-game season to record a .130 winning percentage (this yields a .129 winning percentage if the traditional rounding to three decimal places is ignored).

Unlike some other sports, the nature of baseball is such that it is not reasonably possible for even the very best players to avoid repeatedly making mistakes on the field, especially over the course of a 162-game season. In any particular game, even one mistake might be enough to cause a team to lose even in spite of an otherwise respectable performance. Thus, a relatively weak MLB team defeating an apparently much more talented squad on some given day is not a particularly extraordinary occurrence.

Furthermore, unlike what was the case in 1899, MLB clubs today employ vast minor league farm systems, and the sport has expanded in popularity far beyond the borders of the United States. Additionally, the major leagues of 1899 held to a rigid color line, a policy that was abandoned in 1947. The talent pool for the sport as a whole and for each Major League club is therefore far richer and better developed than what was the case a century ago. Also, the introduction of interleague play means that all teams now play the majority of MLB clubs over the course of a season. Even if a team playing in the toughest division traded away its entire major league roster and/or allowed the players to leave through free agency, it would most likely still be able to call up players of sufficient talent as to be able to win the minimum 29 games necessary to avoid tying or breaking any of the Spiders' 1899 records.

Most regular season games played, season – 165[edit]

The team record is held jointly by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, who played a best-of-three playoff after finishing tied at the end of the National League's first 162-game season. The individual record was set by Dodgers' Maury Wills, who was the only player to play in all 165 regular season games that year for either the Dodgers or Giants. These records were set at the beginning of a seven year span starting with the 1962 season when the National League expanded the schedule to 162 games, and ending after the 1968 season when the National League replaced its traditional best-of-three tiebreakers with one-game playoffs. The 1962 season was the only occasion during those years in which a tie-breaker was needed. The American League has always used one-game playoffs.

No team has played more than 163 regular season games in a season since 1962. While there have been a few occasions where a three-way tie was possible going into the last day if the season (which would result in a team playing 164 games), a three-way tie involving postseason berths has never occurred. From 1969 through 1993, it would have been impossible for any team to be involved in more than three one-game playoffs in a season, since only division champions qualified for the postseason and since there was never more than eight teams per division. Since the introduction of the wild card, it has been technically possible to play 166 regular season games, but is considered extremely unlikely. For a team to have an opportunity to play four tiebreaker games, it would have to be involved in a tie involving three or more teams for the division crown and a separate tie also involving three or more teams for the second wild card berth, meaning that at least five teams in two different divisions of the same league would have to finish with identical records. A team in such a situation would then have to win the division "semi-final" tiebreaker, lose the division "final" and then win the wild card "semi-final" in order to play 166 regular season games. As of the end of the 2018 season, there has yet to be an occasion in MLB history where five teams of one league have finished with identical records. The 2018 season, which resulted in two two-way ties for division titles, was the first occasion where there was even multiple two-way ties for division titles - the losers of the 2018 tiebreaker games subsequently played each other in the Wild Card Game, but that game is considered part of the postseason and not the regular season.

Wills' individual record is statistically even more unlikely to be broken - even if a club somehow managed to play 166 regular season games, it is statistically unlikely that anyone on the team would be in a position to break Wills' record. On average, over the preceding ten seasons from 2009 to 2018 only three players have played all 162 regularly-scheduled games in a particular season, meaning that there is mathematically about a ten percent chance a particular team will have a player who will have appeared in all 162 games pending tie-breakers.

The current MLB regular season schedule runs for about half of the 365-day calendar year and it is extremely rare for all teams to be off on the same day other than during the All-Star break, so except in seasons interrupted by players' strikes every season since 1962 has seen regular season action for at least 166 calendar days. A player could therefore theoretically play in 166 games by getting traded in the middle of the season. However, barring highly unusual circumstances (such as a player being traded more than once in a season or a player being traded to a team subsequently involved in a tie-breaker), for there to be any opportunity to play 166 games the player's new team would have to have played at least four fewer games than his former club - an uncommon occurrence under current scheduling practices. Frank Taveras is the only player to have played even 164 games for two teams in a single season, doing so in 1979.

World Series records[edit]

World Series records constitute a separate category from regular season records, but here too, structural changes in Major League Baseball over the years have rendered some of these records as most likely unbeatable. Expansion of the major leagues over the years, from the original 16 teams prevalent from 1901 through 1960 to the current 30 teams, and the subsequent division of both the American and National Leagues into two geographic divisions each in 1969 created a multi-tier postseason playoff schedule requiring a team to first win a league championship series in order to advance to the World Series. The subsequent re-division of each league into three geographic divisions in 1994 added a second initial playoff layer, the divisional series, to the mix; a team now had to first win the best-of-five divisional series in order to advance to the best-of-seven league championship series and then win that series to advance to the World Series, creating potential hurdles for any pennant-winning or World Championship team looking to go back to the Fall Classic the next season. An extra hurdle for some teams was added in the 2012 season with the advent of the wild-card playoff, in which the top two teams from each league that fail to win their divisions must play a single game for the right to advance to the divisional round. Additionally, the legally mandated demise in the 1970s of the reserve clause binding players to their original teams until traded, released or retirement and its replacement with free agency that allowed star players to sell their services to the highest bidder served to break up winning teams, with the loss of star players reducing those teams' chances for multiple World Series appearances.

Under the previous pre-divisional postseason, pre-free agency system, the New York Yankees were able to appear in 15 World Series in the 18 years between 1947 and 1964, winning 10 of them, including five straight World Championships from 1949–1953, and five consecutive World Series appearances between 1960 and 1964 (though only two World Series championships in that time), a record of success which has not been equaled since, either by the Yankees or anybody else. Since the introduction of free agency, only the 1998–2001 Yankees have managed to reach the World Series over four consecutive years, and only the 1972–1974 Oakland Athletics 1975-77 Cincinnati Reds and the 1998–2000 Yankees have been able to string together three consecutive World Championship years. The changes brought on by free agency are further illustrated by the 10 seasons between 1978 and 1987 which saw 10 different franchises win the World Series – a streak unprecedented in the sport's history.

The changes have also meant that individual players – while having greater freedom to go to teams that they perceive as possible winners and to be paid more money for doing so – are less likely to be able to play in enough World Series to be able to match or beat long-standing cumulative records, such as Whitey Ford's streak of ​33 23 consecutive innings without allowing a run that the Yankee pitcher set between 1960 and 1962 (later retroactively reduced to 33 innings),[103] or Mickey Mantle's 18 World Series home runs that he hit between 1952 and 1964,[104] with both men breaking long-time records previously held by Babe Ruth.

Sportswriters and broadcasters, aware of the lessened chances of both teams and individual players being able to play in multiple World Series, have now popularized a new category of "postseason" statistics that frequently lump playoff and World Series records together – but given the disparity in the number of games played (a team winning a wild-card game, a five-game division series, a seven-game LCS and playing in a seven-game World Series will have played 20 postseason games in just one season, versus the maximum seven World Series games players could have participated in prior to the expanded playoffs), baseball purists believe comparing the playoffs-inflated "postseason" statistics of modern teams and players with the World Series-only postseason statistics from decades ago is like comparing apples to oranges.

Another World Series record unlikely to be broken is the attendance record, as discussed in the next section.

Attendance records[edit]

Several Major League Baseball attendance records cannot feasibly be broken in any currently-used MLB ballpark. Several of these were set by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The all-time record of 115,301 was set there during a pre-season game on March 29, 2008 between the defending champions Boston Red Sox and Dodgers. The same facility also holds the attendance records for games played in the regular season (93,103) and postseason/World Series (92,706), with both of these marks set in 1959 before Dodger Stadium was completed.

The largest currently-used MLB ballpark is Dodger Stadium, with a listed capacity of 56,000. It is the only current ballpark that could theoretically break the MLB single season attendance record under the current schedule of 4,483,350 (55,350 per game), set by the Colorado Rockies in 1993 during their inaugural season at Mile High Stadium. The Rockies were on pace to break their record in the 1994 season before it was cut short by a strike, and moved to the 46,897-seat Coors Field the following year. The second largest MLB stadium is Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays and the first ballpark to record four million fans in a season, but which at a current listed capacity of 49,282 could not break the Rockies' record even under the most improbable one-game playoff scenarios.

The largest multi-purpose stadium in North America suitable for baseball is SDCCU Stadium, the former home of the San Diego Padres, with a listed capacity for baseball of 67,544. While fourteen U.S. stadiums have capacities of over 90,000 of which nine can hold over 100,000 spectators, nearly all were built specifically for American football. A baseball field placed in any of these stadiums would have severe restrictions on its dimensions, and thousands of seats would likely need to be covered to form a suitable batter's eye.

Although a handful of current MLB ballparks (such as Yankee Stadium in New York City and Oracle Park in San Francisco) also host (or have hosted) other sports including American football, soccer and rugby, most contemporary MLB parks have been built specifically for baseball, with only Rogers Centre and Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland having also been designed with one or more variations of football in mind. Modern MLB stadiums are designed to prioritize fan comfort and amenities over sheer capacity. Many existing parks have been renovated, in which older seats have often been replaced with fewer, larger seats. Also, modern safety regulations in many jurisdictions restrict or prohibit once commonplace practices such as selling "standing room only" tickets.

Besides the Blue Jays (who drew four million fans in three consecutive years from 1991–93) and Rockies, the two New York teams are the only MLB clubs to have drawn four million fans in a season - the New York Yankees did so in four consecutive seasons from 2005–08 and the New York Mets did so in 2008. Both teams were still playing in their old stadiums and have since moved to new ballparks with slightly smaller capacities. The Dodgers have led MLB in attendance in every season since 2013, consistently averaging about 46,000 fans per game since that time.

While baseball tickets have historically been relatively inexpensive on average compared to other North American major sports, sellouts are much less common in baseball, especially in the regular season. The importance of gate receipts to a club's bottom line should not be understated, nevertheless since because the Major League Baseball season has always consisted of many more games compared to most other sports its business model has not typically relied on attendance averaging anything near stadium capacity for the clubs to remain economically viable. Historically and even today, any club consistently attracting at or even near the average MLB attendance is typically deemed to be drawing satisfactory "healthy crowds." Furthermore, as previously mentioned, MLB revenue streams are much more numerous today, so teams are not as reliant on ticket sales as was once the case.

Nevertheless, MLB attendance has consistently trended upwards over the last few decades, meaning a ballpark could theoretically break the single season attendance record if some extraordinary event compelled two teams to share a ballpark and/or caused a substantial number of games to be moved to a particular ballpark. While there are a number of instances of two MLB teams sharing a park on a temporary basis (notably, from 1962–65 in Los Angeles and from 1974–75 in New York), average MLB attendance was much lower at that time compared to today, and no such occurrences have yet caused four million fans to pass through the turnstiles in a particular venue for a particular season besides the aforementioned instances, with the 1975 season being the only occasion where two teams would combine to bring even three million fans into a single ballpark.

On the opposite end, the lowest attendance for a baseball game was zero for a 2015 White Sox–Orioles crowdless game between the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox on April 29, 2015, necessitated by rioting in Baltimore due to the death of Freddie Gray. Disregarding that game (as the official Major League Baseball record book does),[105] the lowest recorded attendance for a game open to the public, six (for a September 28, 1882 game between Troy and Worcester, two cities that have long since been relegated to the minor leagues), is still practically unbreakable.

References[edit]

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